In a different year, a well-respected two-term Democratic senator from a purple state might have a real shot at the party’s nomination. Unfortunately for Michael Bennet, it’s 2020 and his mild-mannered personality and centrist platform haven’t broken through.
He missed the third debate stage, and as the requirements ratchet up — a process he says serves only the best “money launderers” — it’s unlikely he’ll make the cut for any more this fall.
Bennet is trying to convince voters that America’s democracy is in a dangerous state of disrepair, that time is running short to fix it — and that he’s uniquely suited to do the job.
Bennet spoke with POLITICO reporters and editors on Thursday as part of a series of interviews with Democratic 2020 hopefuls. He touched on a range of topics, from the newly launched impeachment inquiry to why Democrats are in danger of losing purple states like his own Colorado in 2020. Here are some highlights, edited for clarity and conciseness.
On Whether the new whistleblower developments require impeachment
“I think that we need to let this investigation take its course before anybody makes that judgment and I’ve got responsibilities on the Intelligence Committee to do oversight; I’ve not reached a conclusion. I do think that it would be nice for us to have a president who didn’t behave the way this president did on that telephone call.”
Bennet later added, “Look, I’ve said I think that he’s committed impeachable offenses. I said that about the Mueller Report. I think it’s clear from the Mueller report that he obstructed justice, and I think that’s an impeachable offense. [But] what I think and what the American people think are two different things. And you can’t remove a president unless there’s public sentiment. I suppose you could try, but it seems to me that there would be a debacle in the country.”
Could impeachment backfire on Democrats in 2020?
“If this process doesn’t reflect a commitment to due process, I think it could backfire. If people feel like it’s a thoughtful process and the American people are brought along with it, then I think we’ll be fine. We can’t be cavalier about that.”
On Hunter Biden’s work in Ukraine while his father was vice president
“I think it’d be better not to have that kind of arrangement, [just as] it’d be better not to give speeches to Goldman Sachs.
“I think it is distracting us from where we should be focused, which is on Donald Trump’s calling up a foreign leader and tell him to investigate one of his political opponents. No matter what Hunter Biden did, it is hard for me to imagine that it’s not one million times more benign than that.”
But when asked whether he would allow his own vice president’s children to have similar business dealings abroad, Bennet said: “I would doubt that. No.”
On why voters should choose him over Joe Biden
“Well I think the biggest difference between us is that his view of the world is that if we just get rid of Donald Trump, we’re all gonna go back to normal. And I just completely disagree with that. I think there’s an absolute misapprehension of where we are as a democracy.
“Trump, in my view, is a symptom of a lot of problems. He’s not the cause of most of our problems. He’s made matters much worse than they were before he got there.”
On why a far-left candidate could hurt the party’s chances of beating Trump
“I worry a lot about Elizabeth [Warren] running on ‘Medicare for All,’ Bernie’s health care plan. If you went to a city council meeting in Denver and said, ‘I’ve got a plan for health care for Denver and here’s what we’re gonna do: We’re gonna make private insurance illegal and we’re going to charge everybody a tax that’s equivalent to 70 percent of all the revenue that Denver is going to collect over the next 10 years, you would be ejected from the room. And that is Medicare for All.
“People that have adopted a set of proposals that play really well on social media but have no chance ever of passing the Congress and have no chance ever of uniting the American people to fix a broken Washington. And that’s what I’m worried about, and that to me is an existential question for the party and for this country.”
Bennet elaborates on those concerns…
“I think there is a real risk that we make it easier for [President Trump] to win if we nominate somebody who has a hard time winning in the middle of the country. I don’t think we should treat the Senate as an afterthought. So when you think about how do you win a majority in the Senate, that’s states like Colorado, Iowa, Maine, Arizona, North Carolina. It matters what we’re running on to win those states. I don’t think a person can get elected to the Senate in Colorado being for Medicare for All.”
On why he’s not dead yet in the primary
“I believe that the field is almost completely unconsolidated and the fact that Elizabeth is now ahead of Joe Biden in Iowa and New Hampshire and national polling suggests that.
“I have to do well in both those places in order for this to work, and somehow I have to get from where I am in the polls to someplace better, and that’s what I’m trying to do right now. In Iowa, we’re on TV there; we’ve got three spots that we’re running over this five-week period, and it’s the first opportunity for me to actually communicate with voters in this race in a meaningful way.
“There are three people in double digits out of this field and almost everybody else is somewhere between zero and 3 [points], which is in the margin of error. We’ve made decisions about who should be on the big stage based on that margin of error, but that’s why I think there’s a lot of room to run.”
On the DNC’s debate criteria
“The DNC is throwing people off the debate stage based on how good a money launderer you are.
“I think the criteria were ridiculous and it’s self-defeating. The question I had to ask myself is, ‘Am I going to use this money to launder contributions on Facebook, to pay 70 dollars for every dollar contribution? Or am I going to use it to communicate with the voters in Iowa?’”
When asked what would be a better way to cull the field that started with more than two dozen candidates, Bennet said, “If you won two statewide races in a purple state.”
On the biggest challenges facing American democracy
“We’ve got real structural issues in our democracy, including Citizens United and gerrymandering of the House of Representatives and what the [Supreme Court] has done to the Voting Rights Act. In addition to that, you’ve got the Freedom Caucus and Mitch McConnell.
We’re going to have to marginalize politicians who have seen it as their responsibility to tyrannize the majority of the American people with their idiot ideology, which is far outside the mainstream of conventional American political thought.”
Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine